Skeletal remains found near Earlsboro almost one year ago have been identified through DNA testing as a Tecumseh man who went missing in 2001. While an official cause and manner of death are still pending from the state medical examiner, the Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death as a homicide. DNA analysis has confirmed the bones are the remains of Dustin James Bench, said Cherokee Ballard, spokeswoman for the state medical examiner’s office. Bench was 22 when he disappeared July 1, 2001. Bench left his Tecumseh home on that Sunday to walk to his girlfriend’s home, but he never arrived. At that time, Tecumseh detectives followed several leads to locate Bench, but all had negative results. On April 7, 2008, an Earlsboro homeowner searching for mushrooms on his 320-acre property found a skull in a wooded area. Further excavation of the site resulted in deputies recovering many other skeletal remains. An expert in forensic anthropology examined the skull and bones and determined they belonged to a male who was between 17 and 23 years old and had been deceased one to five years. That description prompted deputies to review several missing persons cases fitting that the criteria. While several theories pointed to Bench, a positive identification could not be speculated or confirmed without DNA testing. Some of Bench’s relatives, who no longer live in the Tecumseh area, were among those contacted for a DNA comparison sample. The testing process was expected to take several months to one year; those results were recently returned. The official identification wasn’t a surprise, but it was needed confirmation.
“We were very confident this was Dustin Bench,” said Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth. With a positive identification, the sheriff said the investigation can proceed further as they have many people to interview about Bench’s disappearance. Deputies also are working to retrieve more information in the case.
Booth said they aren’t sure how Bench died, but they are investigating his death as a homicide. Booth said he hopes anyone with information about Bench or his disappearance comes forward.
“Sometimes a small thing may not seem like a big deal, but it may be the little piece of the puzzle we need to see the whole picture,” Booth said. “We don’t know what piece will further the investigation.” Booth said Investigator Glenn Ring has worked hard on the case and deputies also are working to get old reports from the Tecumseh Police Department, which probed the 2001 case concerning Bench’s disappearance. Anyone with information should call investigators at the sheriff’s office, 275-2526.